Will Johnston: The case against physician-assisted dying

This article was published by the CanadianHealthcareNetwork.ca on June 1, 2016

Discussed: The 'wedge' cases, the language of the debate, the moral culpability of the doctor, and the question of pure autonomy
Dr Will Johnston

Dr Will Johnston

By Tristan Bronca.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition was officially founded in 1998 in response to rising public support for physician-assisted dying. It’s made up of about 2,000 donors—both members and organizations—who began to come together in about 1993 during the Sue Rodriguez case. One of those members is Dr. Will Johnston.

Now the chair of the B.C. chapter of the coalition, the family physician took a strong stance against euthanasia about 22 years ago, when he began writing about it and speaking to high school students and church groups. He also testified opposite euthanasia advocates in the Carter case, which led to the legalization of medically assisted death in Canada. Dr. Johnston spoke with the Medical Post about his concerns with the legislation recently passed through the house of commons, the laws around the world, and why he feels Canada is about to make a dangerous mistake.

Q: Explain the impetus for a coalition of bodies who are opposed to physician-assisted dying.

The bodies that are involved in the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition might not agree on any other issue but they share in common a sense of the huge societal mistake that is being made in euthanasia and assisted suicide. We realize that there is some strength in numbers. Obviously not enough strength to stop the freight train that ended with the Supreme Court being unanimous in its decision—which I think is a troubling sign of the shallowness of the Supreme Court’s reasoning—but nonetheless more power than we would have as individual activists.

Q: Which elements of the proposed federal legislation do you personally find most troubling?

The legislation doesn’t yet allow the euthanasia of children, psychiatric patients, or mentally incapable patients long after they consent, but the preamble to the legislation promises to explore those areas further, which is deeply troubling.

Link to the full article

Margaret Somerville - What the top court left out in assisted suicide decision

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Margaret Somerville

Margaret Somerville

Margaret Somerville, the founding director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University, wrote an insightful article titled - What the top court left out in judgement on assisted suicide - that was published in the Globe and Mail on October 27.

In her article, Somerville comments on the Supreme Court of Canada assisted suicide decision:

A central question in legalizing physician-assisted suicide is where the balance between respecting individual rights to autonomy and protection of the “common good” (protection of others and society, including its important values) should be struck. In this case, there was almost no such balancing. 
Rather, both the trial court and the Supreme Court focused almost exclusively on the rights of individual persons, so that the factual findings and legal reasoning were intensely individualistically based. 
Both courts adopted a narrow definition of Parliament’s purpose in prohibiting assisted suicide (namely, that it was to protect a vulnerable person in moments of weakness from acting on suicidal ideation) and concluded that an absolute prohibition was not needed to achieve this. Indeed, the courts accepted the evidence of plaintiff Gloria Taylor, who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease, that she did not need this protection as showing that she and people like her did not – that is, they were “not vulnerable.”

Then Somerville asks - But was the court correct in its assessment of vulnerability? She explains:
 

Prof. Henk ten Have, a physician-ethicist at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, recently published a paper proposing that vulnerability is an innate human characteristic that we all experience throughout our lives, because it “comes from the social dimension of human existence.” In short, we are not free-floating autonomous atoms.

Somerville explains:

Vulnerability is linked to dependence on others. We are all interdependent, which means we are all vulnerable. This is not necessarily bad, as we might at first assume when we hear the word “vulnerable.” 

Somerville then concludes that Supreme Court missed the common good or the importance of people caring for one another.

Link to the full article